Writing Is Art

Writing is art. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, but it’s a phenomenon that I’m sure veteran writers have been dealing with for ages. What I mean when I say writing is art is that even if the writing is labeled “nonfiction,” it is a creative endeavor. It is not intended to represent the whole truth, nor can it. It is a slice of life, a snapshot, one angle on the truth in any given moment. That is not to say nonfiction writing is a lie – it’s not! But it is a piece of writing. It is not meant to convey the totality of the feelings and intentions of the writer.

writing is artNeither should the writer attempt to explain, justify, or soften the writing. This can be very slippery territory indeed. I’ve never published anything I regret, but I do wish I hadn’t answered questions about some of my pieces, and I have vowed never to do it again. Once, after reading a poem I’d placed in a lit journal, a well-meaning relative asked, “Was this about so-and-so?” She already knew who the poem was about, I’m sure, because enough of the details were recognizable. So the question caught me off guard and I answered, “Yes.”

“I thought so!” She sounded pleased – she’d solved a puzzle. She knew the inside story.  And I instantly regretted affirming her suspicions – because the poem didn’t tell the whole truth. It was only one piece, one facet. If you read that poem and thought, “This is what Jennifer thinks about so-and-so,” you’d be wrong. Did the poem represent a thought I’d had once about so-and-so? Sure. A recurring thought, even. A poetic thought. But it wasn’t the complete story. A poem can’t be the complete story. It’s a poem.  Continue reading

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Hashtag Hysteria, or #YouDontNeedAHashtagForEverything, or Do You Know What Hashtags Are Actually For?

Dear beloved social media friends,

Can I call you my friends?  I’ve never met some of you, but I feel like I know you intimately.  You show me photos of your sushi and take me with you on your family’s travels.  I know where you work and what cocktail you’re sipping after hours.  You even confide in me when you’re mad at someone (although sometimes you’re quite cryptic about who that someone might be).

hashtag definition

Source: Oxford Dictionaries (www.oxforddictionaries.com/us definition/american_english/hashtag)

Because I’ve come to care about you through our frequent exchanges of miscellany and minutia, I’m writing to inform you of a worrisome trend I’ve become aware of lately: the overuse, misuse, and obscenely liberal application of hashtags in any and all social media communiqués.

Let me explain what hashtags are supposed to be for.  They are to connect similar threads so that we can follow a specific topic. For example, I might post something about ObamaCare and include the hashtags #ObamaCare #HealthCare #HeathInsurance.  But wait, I wouldn’t do that.  That’s too political.  More realistically, I might post something about kittens.  In my post, I might include the hashtag #Kittens, so that other kitten aficionados can find my post.

This is how hashtags were intended to be used, but they’ve morphed into something else entirely.  Now, they seem to have become an excuse to shout out random proclamations, like some kind of social media Tourette’s.  Example: I just made a batch of chocolate chip cookies!  Woot!  Woot!   They are delicious!  #Yummy!! #JustLikeMomsCookies!! #ChocolateAfterMidnight!!   Or, another example:  I spent my entire morning waiting for the cable guy.  #FourHourWindowMyAss  #AwfulService  #Frustrated!!!!!  (Quite often, the perpetrators guilty of peppering their posts with useless hashtags are the same people who abuse the exclamation point.  In fact, that would make for an interesting study: hashtag overuse correlated with the frequency of exclamation points.)

It’s an alarming trend.  People are even using hashtags in places where they aren’t functional (i.e., not clickable), like in blog articles and text messages.  What do they mean?   #NotSureWhatThatsSupposedToDo

I fear that if this continues, we’ll lose sight of what hashtags were actually intended for.  We won’t be employing them to connect related threads; rather, we’ll forget how to construct a coherent sentence altogether and be reduced to disjointed shout-outs of single words and short phrases. #StopTheMadness!!!!

Friends, I implore you, please utilize discretion with your hashtags.  While they are useful, and admittedly they’re trendy and cute (and everyone agrees you look super-cool when you use them), they are in danger of becoming degraded into nonsense.  Here’s a helpful pointer: if you can’t click on your hashtag and find any posts other than your own (or, furthermore, if your hashtag isn’t clickable at all), it’s probably not relevant.  To anything.

With warmest wishes for healthy hashtag use,

#Jennifer 

CASH GIFTING AND BARBECUE SAUCE: On becoming a “real” writer

A wise friend once told me that I can discover what I want in life by paying attention to what I envy in others. So, when I ordered the Great American Poetry 2005 anthology from Amazon and felt a pang of resentment upon reading what I considered to be an inferior poem, I realized an important truth about myself: I secretly wanted to write and publish. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so jealous of these supposedly paltry poets if I were sharing my own writing with people.

getting paid to writeMy first attempt at becoming a “real writer” was clumsy and misdirected. I responded to a Craigslist ad offering money for SEO (search engine optimization) Internet articles, which needed to conform to strict guidelines (2% keyword enriched, 400 to 600 words long, and 60% original with the keyword in the title). I treated the articles as writing exercises and made each 100% original. I googled statistics and vetted sources. Although I relished my newfound status as a “professional” writer, the novelty of the articles quickly wore off, and churning out 20 pieces on a single keyword became tedious at best. After being assigned the keyword “barbecue sauce,” and then later “cash gifting,” I decided that perhaps I needed to expand my horizons. (The prospect of writing ten articles about a popular condiment and a notorious scam can do that to a person.)  Continue reading

THIS IS NOT A BLOG…

Nakednotebook.net is not a blog.  It may be in the format of a blog, and it may be published on a blog platform, but do not be fooled.  It isn’t a blog.

The reason why this is not a blog is because I don’t like blogs.  Actually, it’s not that I don’t like them.  It’s the word I don’t like.  Blog.  It sounds moronic, like something a troll would do beneath a bridge.  The townsfolk could hear him down there blogging all day long.  Blog, blog, blog.   It also sounds sophomoric.  Omigod, Becky.  Did you see her?  She is SUCH a blogger.  It’s just a bad word for a rather cool thing.  Whatever NakedNotebook.net is, then, a blog is what it isn’t.

I think it’s okay to define a thing by what it isn’t.  It has long been my opinion that we find ourselves this way.  We stumble through life, encountering individuals and situations that just don’t fit.  We look at them and say, “I may not know who I am, but I’m NOT that.”  After 50 or 60 years of this, we might have a pretty good idea who we are.  If we’re lucky.

This haphazard process of elimination enabled me to discover that I am a writer.  My whole life I’ve loved reading, writing, and words in general.  My skills in this area were celebrated at an early age and all through school.  But I didn’t consider writing my “calling” until recently.  I’m lucky enough to be self-employed as a medical transcriptionist, and my day job is filled with words, grammar, sentence structure, and the like.  But the words aren’t mine, and although I find small business ownership rewarding, it isn’t my life’s work.

That would be my writing, and the fact that writing is my life’s work is a relatively new concept to me.  In college I studied to be a lot of things and changed my major many, many times, the process of elimination at work.  I discovered I’m NOT a guitar teacher, pharmacist, physical therapist, or nurse.  What I didn’t notice was that the thread running through all my studies was my writing:  it was the reason I got such good grades; it was the thing I both put off until the last minute and looked forward to the most.  In short, I took my writing for granted.

What got me focused on writing was The Best American Poetry 2005.  I sent for the book from Amazon.com because I needed one more item to attain Super Saver Shipping status.  If you shop Amazon, you know how important this is.  They cleverly price their items so that your total is always $0.49 short of the amount needed for free shipping.  So you add one more item.  A CD that has been on your wish list, perhaps.  Or a poetry anthology, added on a whim.  When I put the latter into my virtual shopping cart, I thought I’d enjoy reading some fresh, new stuff.

I didn’t.  There was some decent poetry, but the majority of the poems weren’t to my liking.  They weren’t remarkably well crafted or inspiring, in my not-so-humble opinion.  I caught myself thinking that I could write poetry as good, or better, than these “best American poets.”  Envy crept in…why did they deserve to be published, and not I?  The answer was simple.  They write, and I don’t.  They submit, and I don’t.  If I want to publish poetry, I need to do more than scoff at poets.  I need to write some damn poetry, send it to some damn literary magazines, and see how it measures up.

That is what I have done, and I’m pleased to say that some of the wiser poetry editors out there don’t think I suck.  They have even honored me by choosing my poems for their publications.  From my disdain for some subjectively lackluster poetry began my journey as a publishing poet.

My journey as a blogger (ugh – online journalist?) was even more organic in its beginnings.  All my life, I have written these things I call “snippets.”  I don’t know what they are.  They aren’t essays.  They aren’t stories.  They aren’t poems.  Sometimes I really like them; sometimes I think they say something that matters.  I took a few of them to my critique group to share.  “They would make good blog entries,” someone observed.  No, no, no.  I fought the truth, even as it lay there plain before me in my own deplorable handwriting, scrawled on the pages of my ratty-tatty spiral notebook.  I hate blogging, I thought.  Then the epiphany: maybe I like the concept.  I like writing, I like sharing my writing, and I want to build an online presence.  Maybe I just don’t like the word.

So NakedNotebook.net is not a blog.  I call it an “online notebook.” You can call it what you want.  It doesn’t have a “focused topic” like the “most successful” blogs have (according to the blogging authorities).  Sometimes I write about a funny experience I’ve had.  Sometimes I write about where I’m sitting right at that moment.  Sometimes I write about my pseudophilosophical thoughts on life.  Sometimes I write about writing.

Regardless of the topic, though, there will be a format.  This is sort of a pledge from me to you, the reader, so here goes.  I promise that [most of the time] entries will be:

  • Regular (weekly or every two weeks at maximum if I get a nasty virus or a close relative contracts something incurable).
  • Relatively short (usually no more than 2 handwritten wide rule spiral notebook pages – and yes, I recognize this first entry is longer than that).
  • Handwritten in abovementioned notebook.
  • Minimally edited.  This is why the notebook is “naked,” and there is a reason for it.  I have limited time and am an incurable multitasker.  These entries will not only fulfill my commitment to my “online notebook”; they will serve as a writing exercise for me, an opportunity to [hopefully] hone my skills of being concise and staying on a chosen topic.  NakedNotebook.net entries will be, in essence, free writes, a concept I am totally enamored of because it does two fabulous things for a writer: it excuses shitty writing, and it allows for some unexpected (and at times refreshingly non-shitty) results.

So there you have it: my writing, my life’s work, naked, posted on the Internet for any and all to, er, admire.  Or to criticize.  Or to read and enjoy, thinking, “Hey, here’s someone as kooky and messed up and human as me.  Only she’s crazy enough to write about it…and let other people read her writing.”

I’m optimistic.  I hope people read my thoughts and recognize some common ground, some shared humanness.  But I’m also realistic.  Some will “get me,” and some won’t.  It’s okay, because as long as I’m writing, I’m successful.  After all, only people who write poems can get in the poem books.  And only people who write at all can call themselves writers.  I’m a writer, and as long as I’m writing, I’m doing the work.  My work.  And that’s really all that matters.